Aerospace Engineering

Girl Scout to Galaxy Explorer: How Caeley Looney discovered her path to aerospace engineering in middle school

Caeley Looney ● Mission Analyst ● Harris

Caeley Looney ● Mission Analyst ● Harris

It’s almost as if the stars aligned to bring Caeley Looney into the world of aerospace engineering. Caeley was born to two engineers — her mother was a naval engineer and her father worked at a defense contractor. She knew it was only a matter of time before her love for STEM pulled her towards engineering, too.

“I went through elementary school wanting to be a wide variety of things, from a fashion designer to a teacher, but the thought of being an engineer never crossed my mind until I was exposed to robotics.”

When Caeley was in middle school, her parents saw an ad for the local Girl Scouts FIRST robotics program and encouraged her to join. After getting a taste of STEM on this all-girls robotics team, she quickly began exploring different fields. During her first two years at Farmingdale High School in Long Island, New York, Caeley conducted research projects for her science course. When she realized that she enjoyed researching the Mars Rover, Caeley explored her newfound interest in space-related work through similar projects. These high school projects honed Caeley’s interest in STEM to aerospace engineering.

In 2014, Caeley enrolled in an aerospace engineering program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. During the summers before college and after her freshman year, she volunteered at We Connect The Dots, a nonprofit organization that offers STEM-related programs to underprivileged students. Then the summer before her junior year, Caeley had a computer science internship with the Institute for Defense Analyses, where she she got her first look into the defense industry and the U.S. Department of Defense. Caeley went on to complete an internship with NASA at the Kennedy Space Center during her last semester of senior year, where she had the opportunity to focus on aerospace engineering and some computer science.

Caeley is a member of the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), a community of more than 1,100 universities, companies, nonprofits and government organizations nationwide working to increase girls’ and women’s meaningful participation in computing. After receiving the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Award in 2014, she was invited to join the NCWIT Facebook community, a support system of thousands of girls in tech.

“Any time I have an issue or concern, I just go and make a post on our Facebook page,” she says. “Within five minutes, I have ten different girls giving me advice and telling me not to give up!”

While attending the Grace Hopper Celebration in 2017, Caeley was interviewed and recruited as a mission analyst by Harris Corporation, a defense contractor and information technology services provider. She started working at Harris after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in May 2018.

At Harris, Caeley supports several key elements of satellite analysis. She simulates the orbital mechanics and dynamics of their small satellites system and her responsibilities include plotting different orbits, defining station keeping boundaries and optimizing spacecraft subsystems. Caeley says she is lucky to learn about a variety of systems rather than diving specifically into one topic.

“I always get to learn about different systems. I get to learn about things like balancing a power budget, sizing solar panels and developing a communications link budget. It’s great because I never get bored!”

“Any time I have run into a challenging situation, I have forced myself to step back and remember why I am in that situation: to become an aerospace engineer,” she says. “It has definitely been difficult to remember that while I’m in the midst of a tough problem but that has always been what gets me through. Well, that and ice cream!”

Caeley also battles the stigma against mental illness with the support of her service dog, Charlie. With her special furry friend by her side, Caeley says he is one of the biggest reasons she was able to make it to where she is.

“Mental illness is something that I struggled with for a greater part of my life and once I got to college, many of the symptoms worsened,” Caeley says. “My service dog has helped me realize that my disability shouldn’t hold me back from achieving my dreams and literally reaching for the stars. He reinforces my self confidence every time I begin to doubt it.”

Her advice for others — don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Caeley says that her incredible support system and a list of things that make her smile are what get her through the tough times.

“It made it a lot harder to give it up knowing that I’ve worked since the sixth grade towards this [goal]. Don’t give up,” she says. “This world needs women in computer science, aerospace, etc. Without us, progress isn’t made, so remember that.”

———

This story was told in partnership with NCWIT Aspirations in Computing.

Written in the Stars: How Myra Nawabi followed her heart and a non-traditional path to become an Afghan-American Pioneer in Technology

Myra Nawabi ● Senior Project Engineer   Lockheed Martin

Myra Nawabi ● Senior Project Engineer   Lockheed Martin

“Hey Elon Musk, if you’re looking for a COO for SpaceX, I’m the woman for the job.”

Myra Nawabi grew up reaching for the stars. As a young child growing up in Afghanistan, some of her earliest memories are gazing up at the night sky and thinking about what life would be like on the moon. She was not deterred by the adults around her claiming nobody lived up there and she asked, “what if there is a young girl up there who is invisible? How can we know for sure?”

That passion was a constant guide, helping her navigate some challenging times in her life. (And there have been more than a few!) The first one being when she was 6 years old and the Russians invaded her home country. Myra remembers that, “even during the war, the night sky was my constant.” After enduring several years of turmoil, when she was 10 years old her family fled to Pakistan and then on to New York. Her dreams of building products to explore space and the moon propelled her to pursue an undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering at Arizona State University.

Unfortunately, as she was about to complete that program, she succumbed to intense pressure from her family to get married. On the positive side, that decision brought Myra to the Bay Area and within a few years she found herself back at school, pursuing a BA and a teaching credential from Cal State East Bay. As circumstances in her personal life took another turn, it was with the help of an academic advisor that she received financial aid and was able to complete her program.

After graduating, Myra went on to teach middle school math for a few years. It was through that experience she participated in a summer fellowship program with IgnitEd, that helps classroom teachers get hands-on STEM knowledge by working in industry. What started as an 8 week internship at Lockheed Martin has turned into a nearly fifteen year career.

“Every intern (65 people in my cohort) made a presentation to a roomful of executives. They talked about what they learned and what they were taking back. In a “do or die” moment, I announced that my district was laying off teachers and I had no idea what was in store for me. But I did learn ethics at Lockheed Martin and I was going to teach it in my classroom to middle schoolers.”

This out of the box thinking caught the eye of an executive at Lockheed Martin Space. He encouraged her to apply for a position with their IT department and she’s been building her career there ever since.

At Lockheed she is closer to realizing her childhood dream of exploring the moon. She is most proud of building Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM). The GLM is a satellite-borne single channel, near-infrared optical transient detector that has been placed on the GOES-16 satellite in a geostationary orbit. This orbital position allows for GLM to measure a dedicated region that includes the United States with continuous views capable of providing lightning detection at a rate never before obtained from space. GLM detects all forms of lightning during both day and night, continuously, with a high spatial resolution and detection efficiency.

Myra has been recognized as a leader in her space, being named Silicon Valley Business Journal Women of Influence in 2016 and receiving Women in IT Awards, Business Leader of the Year Award in 2018.

Her resiliency has propelled her forward through difficult circumstances.

Myra’s advice for others is “shut down the voices in your head. We all have voices, we’ve picked up along the way. We internalize them.”

Quieting those voices has been a key part of Myra’s success. She has developed a unique strategy which she calls the 8Cs — 4Cs that act as a barrier and 4Cs which she uses to build a support system of mentors, sponsors and advisors. (Keep an eye out for a guest post from Myra on her 8Cs.)

Looking at the Big (Big) Picture: How Melanie Grierson is helping humans explore mars

Melanie Grierson ● Software Engineer ● Lockheed Martin

Melanie Grierson ● Software Engineer ● Lockheed Martin

As a recent graduate of the University of Virginia, studying astronomy and physics, Melanie Grierson is already working at one of the largest global aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies companies in the world. At Lockheed Martin, she gets to perform her dream job as a software engineer on the Orion mission. Melanie always had a love for the STEM field, but she has a particular interest in astronomy because of her desire to learn more about the space.

“There’s so much that we can learn about human life on Earth by studying the universe.”

Jasmine Johnson, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow, had a chance to interview Melanie via webinar in partnership with the Ron Brown Scholar Program.

Listen to her story here. Enjoy!